The Forest for the Trees

It’s rough out there, folks. But I ask you—I urge you—to remember the customer.

Dirt trail leading into a dense forest with lush green leaves on trees.
Don't lose your way, even if there are distractions on all sides. / Copyright: kalinavova

It’s a given: If you’re in this industry you’re here for the guest. But when your crew is in the weeds—and these days, that means every minute of every shift—it’s easy to forget the human sitting at the table.

Coming off of two memorable dining experiences, I ask you—I urge you—to remember the customer. These two occasions stick out because they were polar opposites: one so bad that my husband and I left before we could be seated, the other so gracious and thoughtful that we considered returning for dinner the following night. In both cases, the restaurants were woefully understaffed; the difference was how that information was communicated.

At the first spot, the hostess stomped up, eyed us, and said, “We’ll get you seated at some point” before disappearing for 20 minutes. (Note that lunch entrées here run $24 with cocktails topping out at $16.) At the other, the hostess welcomed us as though we were already treasured friends, and while walking us to our table, mentioned the restaurant was short-staffed and using an ordering system that toggled between QR codes and one-on-one service—did we have a preference? (Dinner dishes here top out at $23 and cocktails run $13.)

I don’t have to tell you there is an art to running a restaurant, but it bears repeating that the host stand is the guest’s first brush with your brand of hospitality. Make sure whoever is manning the entryway (or the counter, as the case may be) has the biggest, brightest smile and the grace to communicate the vibe you want.

That, of course, is easier said than done in a labor market in crisis and ever-shifting restrictions and expectations. In this issue, we address the harried nature of the industry in “The Elephant in the Room”, as well as the lengths some operators are having to go to in order to entice and retain employees (“The Accidental Landlord”). We also hear (again) from an operator still grappling with the loss of her pandemic-shuttered bar (“How to Stop Being a Bar Owner, Part Two”). 

It’s rough out there, folks. But it’s worth remembering something that costs nothing—a genuine smile—can nab you a loyal and understanding guest.

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to


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